Review Blog

Jul 16 2013

The poison boy by Fletcher Moss

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Chicken House, 2013. ISBN 9781908435446.
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. Winner of the 2012 Times Children's Fiction Award. Historical fantasy. Poisons. Dalton Fly is a poison boy, a boy who tastes the food of the rich to make sure that it is safe. When his friend Bennie Jinks dies while tasting, Dalton makes a lucky escape and decides to find answers about why his friend died. With the help of a rich girl, Scarlet Dropmore, and his friend Sal Sleepwell, he sets out on a dangerous adventure to find the poisoners and rescue his city. At the same time he must solve the mystery of the buckle box that was found with him when he was discovered as a baby in a wine barrel.
The setting of a medieval/Renaissance like city called Highlions where poison is used by the rich aristocracy to murder unwanted heirs and while boys like Dalton and Sal live in grimy poverty sets the scene for this exciting adventure. The use of poison is graphically described and the reader gets a really good idea of their awful effects and their antidotes. Dalton has been trained as a taster and can overcome some of the effects of poison but his fight with two poisonings were heart stopping.
While the ruthless poisoners struggle to control the city state by poisoning the heirs to dead Duke, Dalton and his band follow a map that highlights the next heir to be poisoned and have many adventures on the way. Not only is the setting superb, the characters shine out. Dalton is a courageous boy whose leadership skills grow as the story develops. Scarlet and Luke are unusual and feisty heroines and Dalton's friends, Sal and Francis Eyesdown are stalwart and clever allies.
Moss has made clever use of a language that the poison boys use to make his dialogue memorable and giving the characters a vivid feel. A glossary at the back gives definitions of words like 'chinkers', meaning 'coins', or 'ghosted', meaning 'died' and the humour of some of the sayings like 'Wet yourself' (for get stuffed) will sure to appeal to the reader.
This was a really exciting and original adventure story that was engrossing right from the start and happily the conclusion promises another book to follow. It is sure to appeal to both boys and girls and reluctant readers could find the adventure and poisons enticing enough to try. Teacher's notes are available.
Pat Pledger

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